Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Nightengale: CC Sabathia confronts a problem rooted deep in his past
The pain must have been unbearable, or perhaps it was an ugly incident that frightens him and his family, for CC Sabathia to abandon his New York Yankeesteammates.
You don’t walk away, not on the eve of the postseason, unless there’s something terribly wrong.
All we know now is that Sabathia won’t throw a single pitch, let alone set foot in Yankee Stadium.
Let’s turn our focus solely to Sabathia.
Sabathia issued the stunning announcement Monday that he would be immediately entering an alcohol rehab program, and will be gone the rest of the postseason.
Perhaps the Yankees’ postseason lasts only a day, anyways, and they lose Tuesday night in the wild card game to the Houston Astros. Maybe it lasts just a week, and they’re eliminated by the Kansas City Royals in the Division Series. Maybe they have a miraculous run, and are in the World Series for the first time since Sabathia helped them win it all in 2009.
This postseason, Sabathia won’t throw a single pitch, let alone set foot in Yankee Stadium.
Anyone who knows Sabathia - and he perhaps has more friends than anyone in the game - realizes that something has gone dreadfully wrong for him to step away now.
“What CC is dealing with is a life issue,’’ Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “It’s bigger than the game (Tuesday).’’
Let’s forget about the Yankees for now and what it may mean to their World Series hopes.
Let’s turn our focus solely on Sabathia.
This is a man with an impeccable image, and the reputation as one of baseball’s ultimate teammates. He treats the clubhouse attendants with the same respect at Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner. He’ll invite rookies to dinner on the road, paying for their meals, and buying them new suits now that they’re in the big leagues.
The media adores him. He’s always available, forever taking responsibility, and never offering excuses or ducking questions.
Why, even on the days he’s pitching, he will show up five hours early just to hang out in the clubhouse, watch games on TV, and engage in conversations as if he’s a talk-show host.
He was from the old school, an ultimate competitor, who also happened to be a fun-loving guy, enjoying dinner out on the town, listening to music, and having a few drinks at a nightclub.
He had no enemies. When he struggled on the mound, you felt his pain, too as if you were out there with him.
I’ll never forget driving to his Alpine, N.J., home five years ago, spending the day with him, sitting out on his deck, eating his mom’s gumbo, going to his 7-year-old son’s football game, and then coming back to watch Game 5 of the AL Division Series. He was torn which team to root for, with his two good friends, David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays and Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers, vying to meet the Yankees in the ALChampionship Series. Really, considering his vast array of friends, it could have been anyone else, and he would have had the same predicament.
Sabathia, and his wife, Amber and family, couldn’t have been more gracious, treating me more like an out-of-town relative dropping in for the day than an out-of-town reporter.
Now, the news hits that Sabathia believes he may be an alcoholic, and will immediately enter a rehab program.
“I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center,’’ Sabathia said in a statement, “to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease. …
“It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.”
The most alarming facet of the news is the timing.
The Yankees are in the postseason, and considering their season could be over by Tuesday night, why couldn’t Sabathia simply have waited, and quietly entered an alcohol rehab center later in October, perhaps without anyone ever knowing?
He could have undergone his treatment, and spared his family, friends and the Yankee organization, the need for it to ever become public.
This is what terrifies his friends.
Did something happen? Will there be an incident that later is revealed, helping explain his treatment? Was there an ultimatum given?
Maybe it’s for the best that we never know.
“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly,’’ Sabathia said, “I don’t want to run and hide. But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.’’
There have been recent red flags. There was the TMZ video in mid-August that showed Sabathia screaming and pointing at someone outside a Toronto nightclub at 3 in the morning. A brawl broke out just after Sabathia left in a cab.
“I just flipped out, you know,’’ Sabathia told reporters after the tape was released. “I could have handled it better. …Just a bad decision on my part.”
I happened to have spoken with Sabathia the day after the incident in the visiting clubhouse at the Rogers Centre. For the first time in all my years of knowing him, he was terse when answering questions. Yet, when the news of the tape came out a few days later, I figured it explained his sour behavior.
Then, just two weeks later, there was another bizarre incident. A photo agency offered to sell Sabathia a picture of him standing on the balcony of an Atlanta hotel room, smoking what appeared to be a marijuana joint. Sabathia, attempting to dispel the rumor, posted a photo on his Instagram account with hashtags #ItsOnlyACigar and #MiniCigarillos.
“Somebody e-mailed Amber and said they had pictures of me doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing,’’ Sabathia said, addressing reporters. “I wasn’t doing anything I wasn’t supposed to be doing. So that’s why I put that picture out.’’
An incident at Newark Airport last December in which an irate Sabathia and some friends weren’t allowed to board a flight to Jamaica - airport police were briefly summoned - seemed to start this period of strange incidents.
It reminds me of the conversation I had with Sabathia, talking about being robbed at gunpoint in 2002 when he was with the Cleveland Indians. He had just attended an after-hours party at a downtown Cleveland hotel, and was robbed of $3,200 in cash, and jewelry worth much more, when two former Cleveland State basketball players pulled a gun on him.
“That night,’’ Sabathia said that day at his house, “changed my life. It made me a better person.’’
His mother, Margie told me: “There was too much partying. I told him to slow down. It’s OK to go out once in a while. …’’
Sabathia, whose father, Corky, had a drug addiction and died in 2003 from stomach cancer, insisted the armed robbery scared him straight.
Now, a dozen years later, after bouts of straying off-course, he is renewing those vows in a public and painful way, crying out for help.
“Being an adult means being accountable,’’ Sabathia said. “Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids - and others who may have become fans of mine over the years - to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help.
“I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of.
“And that’s exactly what I am going to do.’’
Sabathia will have the baseball fraternity rooting for him, just as they do every time he steps on the mound and takes the ball.
Only this time, they will be praying for him, too.